U.S. hopes Saudi Arabia, others to offer Iraq help
By Sue Pleming
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is hopeful Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations will offer diplomatic and financial help to Iraq at a conference of its neighbors next week, said a senior U.S. official on Wednesday.
U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and the top U.S. commander there, Army Gen. David Petraeus, visited Saudi Arabia on Monday to urge Riyadh to do more in Iraq and the senior U.S. official said there may be an announcement at a ministerial-level conference of Iraq's neighbors and other major powers in Kuwait on April 22.
"I think Crocker and Petraeus are very persuasive fellows ... There may be an announcement at the meeting. It is possible," said the official, who spoke on condition he was not named.
Another U.S. official also said the U.S. meetings in Saudi Arabia had gone well and Riyadh, which promised last year to look into opening an embassy in Baghdad but has not yet done so, was expected to follow through on its pledges.
Saudi Arabia's embassy in Washington did not have any immediate comment.
The United States has urged Sunni Arab states, particularly Saudi Arabia, to have greater diplomatic engagement with Baghdad as a sign of support for the Shi'ite-led government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and to counter the influence of neighboring Shi'ite Iran.
"Promises are good but we want to see action on humanitarian and other development assistance. We want to see forgiveness of debt. We want to see bilateral high-level visits by the Saudis and we want to see embassies and ambassadors," said the senior U.S. official.
"The Sunni Arabs have not covered themselves with glory (in helping Iraq's government)," he added.
The hope was that once Saudi Arabia made a commitment to open up an embassy and normalize relations with Baghdad, that other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members would follow suit, the senior official added.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is set to meet ministers from the six-member GCC plus Jordan and Egypt in Bahrain before the conference in Kuwait, which follows two previous neighbor meetings last year in Egypt and Turkey.
The GCC comprises Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain.
Iran, which the United States accuses of stoking violence in Iraq, is expected to send its foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki to Kuwait as it did for the previous two neighbor conferences.
Iran blames the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 for the violence. The two sides are also locked in a dispute over Iran's nuclear ambitions.
The State Department and the senior U.S. official said it was very unlikely Rice would have bilateral meetings with Mottaki in Kuwait. Previously, Rice has exchange pleasantries with him but not had any substantive talks.
The senior official said Washington believed Iran was behind most of the recent violence in the southern city of Basra and claims that Tehran had helped stop that fighting were "deceptive."
"They arm groups and then instigate violence with those groups and then say we can fix it. They are a pernicious force in the Middle East," he said, adding that the United States was still seeing a "lot" of weapons flow from Iran into Iraq.
Crocker has met several times with his Iranian counterpart to discuss Iraqi security, but the senior U.S. official said no new date had been set for another round of those talks.